Skip to main content

A Very Strange Novel.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the novel "Children of Darkness and Light" by Nicholas Mosley (Dalkey Archive Press)



Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on July 29, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 29, 1997: Interview with Scotty Moore; Review of Nicholas Mosley's novel "Children of Darkness and Light."


Date: JULY 29, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 072901np.217
Head: Scotty Moore
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

August 16th is the 20th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. My guest Scotty Moore is the self-effacing musician who was Elvis' first guitarist and first manager. Moore played with Elvis from 1954 through the '60s.

As Peter Guralnick, author of the definitive biography of Elvis writes: "guitar players of every generation since rock began have studied and memorized Scotty's licks, even when Scotty himself couldn't duplicate them."

Scotty Moore has collected memories of his years with Elvis in a new book called "That's Alright, Elvis" and he has a new CD called "All the King's Men" that also features Elvis' long-time drummer DJ Fontana. There is more Elvis news: a new box set called "Platinum" collects 77 previously unreleased tracks.

Let's start with a previously unreleased take of "Lordy, Miss Claudie" (ph) -- listen for Scotty Moore's solo.




Yeah, something like that.

Well, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy Miss Claudie
Gal, you sure look good to me
Well, please don't excite me baby
No, it can't be me

Because I give you all of my money Gal
But you just won't treat me right
You like to bawl every morning
Don't come home 'til late at night

I'm gonna tell -- tell my mama...

GROSS: Before Scotty Moore recorded with Elvis at Sun Records, Moore recorded at Sun with his own country band, the "Starlight Wranglers." Here's how he got -- that's how he got to know the owner and mastermind of Sun Records, Sam Phillips (ph).

SCOTTY MOORE, ROCK GUITARIST: Well, we became just great friends through that connection. And the job that I had, I was off early in the afternoon. And if Sam wasn't working in the studio or something, I'd go by and we'd have coffee next door at a little cafe there.

And just discuss the business in general -- have you heard so and so and the record they've got out and the way they're doing it and different sounds. And Sam was always saying: "well, if we can just find something different; if we can find that little niche, you know, to get in between all this other stuff that's happening."

And Marian (ph), his secretary, was having coffee with us one day and she said: "Sam, what about that boy who was in about a year ago cutting that S-tape for his mother?" And Sam said: "yeah, best I remember he had a pretty good voice."

And that's all I needed. In the next couple weeks, I said: "you know, you contact that kid yet?" Blah, blah, blah. And finally I guess he got tired of it, and he told Marian -- said take that guy's number and bring it out of the file and give it to Scotty. And he turned to me and he said: "give him a call and get him to come over to your house and see what you think about him."

And of course, I did. And that was on a Saturday. I called him; he came over on Sunday afternoon. And, oh, we spent I guess a couple hours. It seems like he knew every song in the world.

GROSS: Well, when you asked him to come over and do some songs for you, what songs did he sing?

MOORE: Everything. I mean, he did Billy Eckstein. He did Eddy Arnold. I don't remember a specific song necessarily, but I mean he just knew all these songs.

GROSS: And did he do them in the style of the singer who had the hit version?


GROSS: So, he was singing in a lot of different voices.

MOORE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Did you have a sense of what voice was really his?

MOORE: No, because he would -- at his age, he still didn't have the timbre yet.

GROSS: Oh, the deep-voiced Elvis.

MOORE: The deep voice. Right.


GROSS: So, musically he thought he was versatile, but you couldn't tell who he was.

MOORE: That's fair to say. In fact, when -- after he left that day, I called and relayed that basic information to Sam. I said: "you remember you told us to go out and get some original material." And he said: "well," he said, "I'll tell you what. I'll call him and get him to come in and audition, and he said, "just you and Bill Black come in. I don't need the whole band. Just need a little, you know, just a little noise behind him."

So the next night we went in, which was the audition, and then we were taking a break and is when the thing exploded. Elvis just jumped up and started just flailing his guitar and singin' "That's All Right, Mama." Just nervous -- nervous energy.

GROSS: Now, that was a song by Arthur Koroda (ph).

MOORE: Koroda, yes.

GROSS: Did you know the song when he was starting to play?

MOORE: No. No. I'd never heard it.

GROSS: So you just started to fill in behind him?

MOORE: Right. Bill -- Bill started there just slapping the bass and it sounded pretty good with (Unintelligible), so I started in just playing some kind of rhythm thing with him, too.

GROSS: And then Sam Phillips, the head of Sun Records, liked it and asked you to lay it down on tape?

MOORE: Yeah, he was in the control room. The door was open when we was doing it, and he came, stuck his head out there, said "what are you guys doing?" And we said: "just goofin' around, you know." He said: "it sounded pretty good through the door, so let's put it on tape, see what it sounds like."

And we made a couple of cuts and listen back and make some changes and stuff. And the best I remember is only like maybe four or five...

GROSS: Four or five takes?

MOORE: Takes, yeah. We might have stopped with -- you know, Elvis got too close, popped a mike, or something of that nature, but it just seemed like it didn't take but a few minutes to do it. Or at least it feels like that now.

GROSS: Well, let's hear the version that was actually released of "That's All Right." Elvis Presley and my guest Scotty Moore on guitar, and Scotty Moore has a new biography -- autobiography called That's Alright, Elvis.


PRESLEY SINGING: Well, that's all right, Mama
That's all right for you
That's all right, Mama
Just anyway you do
To that's all right
That's all right
That's all right, now Mama
Anyway, do

Well, Mama she done told me
Papa done told me, too
Son, that gal you foolin' with
She ain't no good for you
But that's all right
That's all right
That's all right, now Mama
Anyway, do

I'm leavin' town, baby
I'm leavin' town for sure
Well, then you won't be bothered
With me hangin' 'round your door
But that's all right
That's all right
That's all right, now Mama
Anyway, do

I've got a dee, dee, deedie
Dee, dee, deedie

GROSS: When you recorded this, Scotty Moore, did you have any sense that this was something new and exciting that was happening? This was the beginning of something important?

MOORE: All of us knew, when we listened to it, that it was different. But we didn't know what direction, because it -- here, it was a R&B song and with an instrumentation kind of threw it into more of a country flavor. So it was a mixture.

GROSS: And what you're playing there is really very jazz-influenced.

MOORE: Well, yes and no. I'm trying to -- I had just -- had been turned onto Chet Atkins with his thumb finger playing a few months back. And I had been trying to figure out how he did this -- sound like two guitars.

And I was beginning to understand it, but I couldn't do it. But then I started doing the rhythm thing on this, to just try to fill it up, and as -- with three or four takes went on, I kept trying to stab the little notes in, as I was doing the rhythm.

GROSS: Those little high notes that you're talking about?

MOORE: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, I mean -- those high notes that you play on the fills are so unexpected in a rhythm and blues song, I think.

MOORE: Yeah. They would have been. Right.

GROSS: They're kind of delicate, for that.

MOORE: Sneaky.


GROSS: Sneaky. I like that.

You know, it's interesting, too, that here's -- you know, this like really early rock and roll record and there's no drummer on it.

MOORE: No. Well...

GROSS: I mean, you know, drums are like the back-beat of rock and roll and everything, and you're starting off without a drummer.

MOORE: Well, it was -- like I said it -- number one, it was an audition, on the first thing. But even after that, well, Sam used the Bill Slap (ph), and then he would add the tape delay on top of that, which gave it a -- the rhythm thing also. But he always said, oh, he hated drums. He hated drums. And when I got a little more in tune...

GROSS: Sam Phillips was saying he hated drums?

MOORE: Yeah. But after I got a little more into the engineering savvy, it was a small -- this room's not much bigger than this -- he couldn't control them. That's why he didn't like them.


GROSS: Now what was -- what were your thoughts about Elvis' guitar playing?

MOORE: He was a wonderful rhythm player as far as, you know, as acoustic, open type rhythm. He had great rhythm. And had great rhythm in his voice, if you listen. He did a lot of things with his voice that just came natural to him. I think he got that through the gospel influence -- you know, the "well, well, wells" and that type thing...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOORE: ... especially the bass singers would do in gospel music.

GROSS: Now, tell me the truth, after you started recording with Elvis, did you think: this guy's a great singer. Or were you thinking: oh, this guy's OK.

MOORE: Oh, well, we became more aware after just three records, that he liked the challenge, but he was very particular about songs. He had to get into them -- feel 'em good. Now, true, most of the stuff on Sun was -- it wasn't original material. There were some. They were remakes of R&B and some -- couple of country things like "Milk Cow Blues" and things like that.

When we went to RCA, things changed. He was absolutely picking his own material then. And we'd go into session and have a stack two-feet high of acetates. In the first couple hours, he would spend going through those and he might listen to eight bars and zap across the room. Then he'd listen about half way, and he'd put that in this stack to come back and listen to again.

GROSS: These are what -- demos that had been made for him?

MOORE: Mm-hmm. Demos. Right. And that's what he did, and very few times did I ever see him that one he kept in the "maybe" stack and that we'd actually try; that he would then throw it away after he heard it back. He had that good a ear.

GROSS: Did you have any say in it?

MOORE: The only thing that he didn't -- we let us -- he let us do whatever we wanted to, as far as putting the song together musically.

GROSS: Do you remember one of the songs that was picked out of the demo pile like that?

MOORE: I think "Don't Be Cruel" was picked like that. Of course, Hill and Ratings (ph) could try to keep -- they were the main writers and what they thought was at the top of the stack, too, you know.


GROSS: My guest is Elvis' long-time guitarist Scotty Moore. He has a new book called That's Alright, Elvis. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Elvis' long-time guitarist Scotty Moore.

You know, you ended up booking and managing Elvis in the early days of his recording career, when he first got started at Sun Records. This was, I think, at Sam Phillips' suggestion. What did that mean? What was the work you were doing?

MOORE: Well, yes, I was doing that -- trying to book some jobs. But the management thing, there were -- when Dewey Phillips (ph) started playing the record and he...

GROSS: This is Dewey Phillips, the Memphis DJ who broke Elvis' first record on the air.

MOORE: Right. And it was breaking like crazy around Memphis, and there were two or three "promoters" -- bookers that started calling Elvis.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOORE: And he didn't know -- you know, he didn't know what to tell them or anything. And we were talking about it at Steel (ph). And it was actually Sam's idea. He said -- he said: "tell you what." He said, "Elvis, why don't you sign a contract with Scotty for a year as your personal manager. That way you won't -- you will not have to lie" -- 'cause he just -- he didn't feel comfortable about dealing with that stuff. And so that will give us all time to find somebody -- somebody that we all like and think we can work with.

And that was Bob Neel (ph), who was a local disc jockey. And he started booking us all through Mississippi, Arkansas, and then you know who came into the picture, and just gradually eased Bob on out.

GROSS: Talking about Colonel Parker. So with -- did you actually have to do any of that booking yourself early-on?

MOORE: Yes, I did quite a bit -- first, I'd say, six months or so, yeah.

GROSS: So tell me what it was like early-on, before people really knew who Elvis Presley was, when you were trying to establish dates?

MOORE: It was rough. I mean, you know, we're talking about making, for the group, you know, $25 a night. You know, maybe driving 50 miles.

GROSS: How would you describe what Elvis and the band were doing -- to someone who -- if you were trying to book yourselves into a place -- a place where they hadn't heard you yet?

MOORE: Oh, well it was almost impossible, if they hadn't heard the record on the radio...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOORE: ... I mean, how do you describe it? There's this kid gonna come out in a pink pants and white stripes and white buck shoes and a New York duck haircut -- in Mississippi? No, we tried to find places that they at least heard -- you know, had heard him on the radio or something.

And then even then, when they saw him, it was kind of shock value, you know.

GROSS: What was the first time like when you saw him that way?

MOORE: It didn't bother me, but -- that the Sunday I was telling you he came over to the house ...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. This is before you recorded.

MOORE: Yeah. In -- my wife was there and she kind of gave me the jaundice eye and I thought she was going out the back door when she saw him.

GROSS: How was he dressed?

MOORE: He had on a white lace see-through shirt, and it either black or pink slacks, with a white stripe down the side. And it was just unusual for the norm, but he always loved those flashy clothes and stuff like that.

GROSS: Let me play another record from the Sun sessions. And I thought we'd play "Mystery Train."

MOORE: Great. Good -- that's my signature song.

GROSS: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about what you're playing on this and what it was like to record this track. Share some memories about it.

MOORE: It was a slow R&B song...

GROSS: That Junior Parker had recorded before.

MOORE: That Junior Parker had, yeah. And we ended up just getting the tempo up more and I changed the rhythm thing around -- and I've always loved this. It's just a fun thing to do. We still -- I still use that as playoffs and stuff on things I do.

GROSS: Now, did you and Bill Black work out the rhythm on this? Or was this a groove that you just happened into together?

MOORE: Well, Bill would just naturally -- yeah, though, he was a natural -- just naturally fall in and slap bass and, you know, put the rhythm in. He might not hit every note dead on, but that rhythm would always be there. We always went for feel.

If it felt good -- if there was some little bauble or something -- no, it wasn't quite true, or something -- it didn't matter 'cause once you get that feel and you keep trying, it will just go down hill. You reach that peak and it's gone.

GROSS: OK, well, this is Mystery Train -- Elvis Presley -- my guest, Scotty Moore on guitar.


PRESLEY SINGING: Train arrive, 16 coaches long
Train arrive, 16 coaches long
Well, that long black train
Got my baby and gone

Train, train, comin' 'round, 'round the bend
Train, train, comin' 'round the bend
Well, it took my baby, but it will never will again
No, not again

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is guitarist Scotty Moore who we just heard on Mystery Train. And he's written a new autobiography called That's Alright, Elvis.

When did you start realizing that Elvis was really catching on in a very emotional way with his fans?

MOORE: I would say that after we did the first couple of TV shows with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOORE: ... after we went to RCA. Before that, most of our shows and stuff had been all in the Southeast. And there had been some, granted, that starting to see the hysteria and so forth.

But it really didn't come home to us 'til we did those shows -- that national exposure. Then it just seemed like the floodgates opened up, you know.

GROSS: Now how'd you feel about this -- on the one hand, it was like really good news for the group -- that the singer was so popular. On the other hand, he was getting so much of the attention. Did you feel envious of the attention that he was getting?

MOORE: Oh, no, no. That never even crossed our minds. Now that -- we hoped would mean bigger paychecks, bigger paydays, you know, for everybody.

GROSS: Did it?

MOORE: Nope. Now, it did grow a little bit, but not very much. That's kind a what I'm saying with the title of the book. The pay raises, the perks and stuff as he got bigger and bigger and bigger didn't come along for the band. And I'm just saying that's OK -- it's not -- we were being paid a fair wage as far as the man on the street with everyday job.

GROSS: Right.

MOORE: You know, $200 a week back then wasn't bad at all. But then you take -- as he got bigger and we had to get into these bigger hotels and people expect you to take them to dinner and we bought our own clothes and paid our own hotel bills. We were making -- I was in -- you know, hey, some of this should come from some other source, you know. I mean, that was the thing.

We weren't really arguing about that we didn't have enough to pay the bills at home, but there was all this other stuff that was really expected of you that you couldn't forward.

GROSS: Scotty Moore has a new book called That's Alright, Elvis. He'll be back with us in the second half of our show.

Let's end this half with one of Moore's favorite Elvis recordings, "Don't."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


PRESLEY SINGING: Don't, don't, don't
That's what you say
Each time I hold you this way
Woo, woo, woo, woo

When I feel like this
And I want to kiss you, baby
Don't say don't

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Scotty Moore, who was Elvis' guitarist from 1954 through the '60s. He shares his memories of those years in the new book That's Alright, Elvis. He also has a new CD with Elvis' long-time drummer DJ Fontana, called All the King's Men.

You moved to RCA with Elvis in 1956.

MOORE: Right.

GROSS: So what were some more of the changes that happened with the change of recording company when you moved from Sun to RCA?

MOORE: Well, first of all, RCA was -- at that time, the studio was big, huge room. But they had -- although Sam was a technical guy also -- you know, you've got an engineer and you've got a guy running the tape machine and you got the producer sitting there -- and, you know, the way the big boys did it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Did you like that change? Did it make you feel, like, more professional or less in control?

MOORE: In some ways -- they started out -- it wasn't very long -- probably that first session, they found out -- we've -- play the intro, flubbed the first note, and they'd punch in "EWF" (ph), you know, "take two." And they finally eased off with some of that stuff.

GROSS: I mean, they were deciding...

MOORE: Well, it...

GROSS: ... the tape wasn't good before you even started playing.

MOORE: Right. And we weren't used to that kind of stuff, you know...

GROSS: Right. Right.

MOORE: ... let you get into the song, and then let's start doing that.

GROSS: Did it ruin your rhythm?

MOORE: Well, it ruined your train of thought sometimes. You know, you just get -- but they adapted real quick. They still had take numbers, but they'd wait until we finally got the song worked up and maybe got a few of the glitches out of the way. Then they'd start in with the take numbers.

GROSS: What would you say is your most copied guitar solo from the Elvis records?


GROSS: Or one of the most...

MOORE: Probably "Heartbreak Hotel," maybe. I don't know. I mean, I've never been asked that before. Should we do a survey?


Write in, folks, and tell me. I don't know.

GROSS: Well, why don't we go for Heartbreak Hotel?


GROSS: Tell me your memories of this session.

MOORE: Well, of course, that was the first one on RCA, and they were trying to get basically the same sound that Sam was getting that gotten some interest. And they had this big long hallway out in front that had the tile floor. So they put a big speaker at one end of it, and a mike at the other end, and the sign "do not enter."

And they used that -- that's where it ended up with that deep, real-room echo instead of the tape-delay echo that Sam had used. Now, there is -- it's hard to hear -- there is a little take delay on it, but either their tape machine didn't match his, so it's just very slight and they ended up just with the acoustic echo.

And I'll give them credit -- they didn't -- I don't think they knew it -- or maybe they didn't think about it, but room echo at that point was sound effects they used in the movies. They weren't using them for recording. And then here comes this, and it's so drastic, but it worked for the song. When he says, you know, "at the end of lonely street." It's so distant.

And I'd like to say this, if you don't mind, in speaking these technical things, one thing that Sam did that I don't believe he realized when he was doing it, and I didn't 'til years later, that I got into engineering -- he pulled Elvis' voice back close to the music. You know, all the Sinatra and all those things where the voice is so far out in front. And he more or less used Elvis' voice as another instrument.

GROSS: Into the mix.

MOORE: Even to the mix. But didn't bury him, like a lot of the rock things, you know, later.

GROSS: Right.

MOORE: But you still -- but closer.

GROSS: Now, your solo on Heartbreak Hotel, is that something you had prepared before the session? Or -- is this something you had worked out?

MOORE: No, no.


MOORE: No, everything we ever did was just spur of the moment.

GROSS: Did you learn the song at the session? Or did you know it before that?

MOORE: No. Learned it at the session.

GROSS: Well, all right. Let's hear it. 1956. Heartbreak Hotel.


PRESLEY SINGING: Well, since my baby left me
Well, I found a new place to dwell
I was down at the end of lonely street
That heartbreak hotel
Where I'll be
I'll make you so lonely, baby
Well, I'm so lonely
I'm so lonely I could die

Although it's always crowded
You still can find some room
For broken-hearted lovers to cry there in their gloom
And be so
I'll make you so lonely, baby
I'll make you so so lonely
They're so lonely, they could die

Now, the bellhop's tears keep flowin'
The desk clerk's dressed in black
Well, they been so long on lonely street
Well, They'll never, never get back
And they get so lonely, baby
Well, they're so lonely
Well, they're so lonely, they could die

Well, if you're baby leaves you
You've got to tell the tale
Or just take a walk down Lonely Street
To Heartbreak Hotel
Where you will be so lonely, baby
Where you will be lonely
You'll be so lonely, you could die

GROSS: That's Heartbreak Hotel. My guest, Scotty Moore on guitar, and he's written an autobiography, which of course includes his years playing guitar with Elvis Presley. It's called That's Alright, Elvis.

Did you see Elvis undergo a personality transformation as he became more and more famous? You know, a recording star, a movie star, a heart-throb, an icon?

MOORE: You know, the years I spent with him, he seemed to take it in stride.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOORE: Yeah, I saw all the things changing around him, you know, with the movies and such. And he became more secluded as he gathered his entourage around him, because he didn't feel like he could go out and -- and didn't want to cause a scene, you know. And just going to, like a famous restaurant or something.

But as far as personality changes and stuff, I didn't become aware of any until after I left him, and then he started in the '70s, and I don't know the inside, and I've heard, of course, and read a lot of stuff, but it still amazes me 'cause it -- just a few months before he died, I saw some footage and, you know, when he was so bloated, he was just -- and I said there's something desperately wrong.

'Cause he was very vain, and there's no way that he'd go out in front of people like that.

GROSS: Did you feel like he...

MOORE: I don't think he could see himself in the mirror at that point.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Did you feel like you didn't recognize the person he had become?

MOORE: No, I didn't.

GROSS: Did you communicate with him at all during that period?

MOORE: No, and it was not because of any conflicts or anything, it's just that with this entourage around and there was -- two or three of those guys that were really good guys.

But still, he could call me a lot easier than I could get through to him. You make -- you know what I'm saying? Make the call, you don't know if he ever gets it or not. And so I just left it for him.

GROSS: But he did not call, though.

MOORE: You never know what was being -- who he was being told.

GROSS: Right. When did you stop playing with Elvis, and what was behind stopping?

MOORE: The -- well actually, it was 1968 special which now they call the "comeback" special.

GROSS: That great TV special where he's wearing the leather jacket and the leather pants.

MOORE: Right. He was -- I mean, he would -- oh it sounds funny for a man to say -- but he was an absolute Adonis on that show. He looked good. He was in great shape. And if that man had a pill in him at that point, I'd like for them to prove it to me.

I mean, he was just -- and he was ready. He was nervous because he -- when he found he was going to have to -- these two little groups they brought in when we did our in the round thing. That made him nervous.

But he was anxious. He only had, I think, one more movie to finish before all the contracts were done. And he wanted to get back to performing. That's where he was best at -- what he loved to do.

GROSS: Did you stop playing with him because of conflicts over money?

MOORE: Not from the '68 point of view.

GROSS: It was before that.

MOORE: Bill and I left him at one point for about, I don't know, six, eight weeks, but we went back. They called us back. Worked on a per-gig basis. It was just trying to get his attention, you know -- he said, what strikes are all about (Unintelligible).

GROSS: Right. So that was a good concert for you, too -- that TV comeback.

MOORE: Yeah. In fact, DJ and I had dinner with him at his house and he did something that...

GROSS: This is the drummer, DJ Fontana.

MOORE: Drummer. Yeah. Fontana. Mm-hmm. And -- 'cause that was all -- regardless of who was around, if he wanted to say something to you, he never made any moans about -- go and whisper or anything like that.

But that night, he asked DJ and I to go back in another room with him. And he asked us -- said how would you guys like to do a European tour? Of course, sure -- just let us know.

And he asked me, he said: "do you still have your studio?" And I said "yes." He said: "what's the chances of getting in their and locking up for a couple of weeks?" And I said: "just gimme some warning so I can block the time." I didn't tell him I was gonna charge him for the time.


MOORE: And those two things never materialized. I have no earthly idea what he had in his mind by going into the studio. Don't know.

GROSS: It was Vegas after that.

MOORE: And then, the Vegas -- well, they did call -- management called all the Nashville players about Vegas. It was going to be a two or three week deal. Nashville was at its absolute peak. The Jordanaires (ph) alone had 40 sessions on the books, with Owen Bradley (ph).

And we all got together -- they made some pitiful weekly salary offer and we all got together and said, well, all we can do is just make a counteroffer and show them what we'd lose if we did it. And of course, it was ridiculous for him out there.

And next thing I knew, they headed into Vegas and I just figured at that point that that was the end of it as far as my side of it. I still had a studio, so I just -- I didn't, you know, it wasn't like official -- well, I'm quittin' playing today, but I just got into the studio work and just laid it aside, you know.

GROSS: My guest is Elvis' long-time guitarist Scotty Moore. He has a new book called That's Alright, Elvis. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Elvis' long-time guitarist Scotty Moore. When you stopped playing with Elvis, you virtually gave up the guitar for, I don't know, close to 25 years.

MOORE: Twenty-four years, right.

GROSS: And I guess I can't understand that.

MOORE: Well, after I -- I sold my studio. Then I started a tape duplicating company.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

MOORE: And then also an industrial printing company, and so I was pretty busy. I mean, there really wasn't time for thinking about playing. I sold off what guitars I had.

GROSS: Well, sure, I mean, you created a life for yourself in which there wasn't time for playing. But you could have created a life for yourself in which there was no time for a tape duplication service, 'cause you were playing so much guitar.

MOORE: I don't know.

GROSS: Did you try that?

MOORE: No, no. I really didn't.

GROSS: Was it 'cause you didn't care about playing anymore? Or did you make the assumption that there wasn't going to be a place for you?

MOORE: Well, it really started when I had the studio. I mean, you try to draw people in and you don't want to create a -- what am I trying to say?

GROSS: You didn't want to compete with the people you were recording?

MOORE: Yeah, I didn't want them to be intimidated in any way. So I just kind of kept that, you know, in the background, unless somebody recognized me or something like that. I didn't push it to the forefront at all.

GROSS: Even that, why did you want to run a recording studio instead of being on-stage playing guitar?

MOORE: I just -- well, I told somebody one time -- they asked me the same thing -- I said: "well, shoot, why would he play guitar? I can play the whole orchestra," you know.

GROSS: So you really enjoyed being...

MOORE: I did.

GROSS: ... being behind the controls.

MOORE: Yeah, really did.

GROSS: I guess it must have felt good to be in control, 'cause in the band, you know, Elvis had more say than the musicians did, and in the recording studio, there was people from RCA who were calling the shots.

MOORE: You might be right. Don't mess with me. I'll turn you off.


I would hit the red button.

GROSS: You started playing again, what? In the early '90s, was it?

MOORE: Ninety-two.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. And what was behind that?

MOORE: Oh, I will have to back up a little bit there. About 18 -- two years -- '90 -- I went to a little gathering for Carl Perkins (ph). Carl and I, of course, had known each other from Sun days. And there was somebody else down there, and I think said "so why hadn't you two guys ever recorded anything together?"

And actually I had done one session with Carl in '75. He wrote a song with all-Elvis song titles, called "EP Express." Well, other than that, we never had recorded anything together. And that's when this guy -- actually says "so why don't you two guys record something?" And Carl and I looked at each other and said: "well, why not?"

And we talked about it a minute, and we said OK. Well, lo and behold, just a few weeks later is when the throat cancer hit him. And he was laid up for, like, 18 -- about 18 months with that.

Christmas of '91, I believe, called just to see how he was doing -- well, it wasn't Christmas Day. It was, you know, during that period, and he said: "Scott, you won't believe it. I just came from the doctor today and said they give me a clean bill of health."

And I said: "well, does that mean we can go back and do this recording?" And he said: "yeah. Yes, we'll do that." And he said -- and I said: "well, now look. I haven't played in 24 years." He says: "Oh," he said, "it's just like falling off a bicycle." You know, or something to that effect.

So in a sense it was kind of like, you know, pumping each other and I think it was February of '92 we actually got together in the old Sun studio and did something.

GROSS: When you picked up your guitar about 24 years after you'd put it down to record with Carl Perkins, had you played it -- I mean, did you remember how to play? Had you played at home in the interim?

MOORE: No, I didn't even have any guitars.

GROSS: Gosh. Can you tell me you didn't miss it, those years?

MOORE: I really didn't. I've thought about that really hard, and it -- well, I was so busy doing other things, I guess.


MOORE: But the thing that really got me -- when I realized it was in my blood -- the Elvis celebration, August of that year '92. I went to Memphis and did the show with Carl. And I'm standing over in the wings -- Carl's fixin' to bring me out. And I'm thinking to myself: "you're supposed to be nervous." And I walked out, and just -- it didn't bother me a bit.

And I was really surprised. And that's when I told myself: "it's in your blood. You might as well admit it."


GROSS: Tell me, you know, in the years after Elvis' death, there've been cult groups that have risen around him -- people who swear that they've seen him, even though he's been dead and so on. Everybody knows what I'm talking about.

What goes through your mind when you see the way even in death he is worshipped? I mean, you knew him as a man, not as a God.

MOORE: Yeah. Well, he wasn't -- they're misguided. I don't want to be sarcastic and say, you know, get a life, but it's OK to like somebody, but don't -- you don't idolize them like that, you know. He wouldn't have liked it. He really wouldn't. And he didn't like being called "the King" either.

GROSS: He didn't?

MOORE: No. He said there was only one king and it was the man upstairs.

GROSS: Do you feel bad that Elvis died during the period when you weren't really in touch, so you didn't have a chance to maybe talk about things with him that you might have liked to talk about before he passed?

MOORE: Well yes, in one way, but in another way, I always -- he was so vain, I could never see him growing old gracefully.

GROSS: Hmm. That's interesting. But like you were saying, if he was so vain -- like, he was so vain and yet he managed to allow himself to balloon the way he did.

MOORE: That just astonishes me. I don't know. I'll never understand that.

GROSS: But you can't imagine an aging Elvis?

MOORE: No, I mean if he hadn't got into that situation...

GROSS: Right.

MOORE: ... no, I never could. In fact, the guys -- we used to talk about it, you know, we said: "what's he going to do when he gets about 60?"


MOORE: What if he goes bald? You know, it was just all kind of stuff like that.


GROSS: Well, Scotty Moore, I'm really glad you're playing again, and a pleasure to have the chance to talk with you.

MOORE: Terry, it's been a pleasure and enjoyable.

GROSS: Scotty Moore's new book is called That's Alright, Elvis and he has a new CD called All the King's Men that also features Elvis' long-time drummer DJ Fontana.

On each track, they're joined by a different guest performer whose been influenced by Scotty Moore. One of Moore's favorite tracks features Tracy Nelson. Here it is.


TRACY NELSON, SINGER, SINGING: It's hard to believe
What's happenin' to me
Is not just a game of pretend
So please sympathize
And don't act surprised
If I ask again

Is part of this for me?
Or am I dreaming?
This promise that you'll be mine
Forever more

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Scotty Moore
High: Guitarist and record producer Scotty Moore was Elvis Presley's first guitarist and manager and one of the early influences of the rock guitar sound. He has co-written an account of his work with the King of Rock'n'Roll, entitled "That's Alright, Elvis." He also has a new CD out of collaborations he and drummer DJ Fontana did with various musicians, including Keith Richards, Tracy Nelson and Cheap Trick, among others. The CD is entitled "All the King's Men."
Spec: Music Industry; History; Elvis
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Scotty Moore
Date: JULY 29, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 072902NP.217
Head: Children of Darkness and Light
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Nicolas Mosley, who's won England's prestigious Whitbred Award for his book "Hopeful Monsters," is known for novels about issues of theology and philosophy. One of those novels, "Children of Darkness and Light" has just been published in this country by Dalkey Archive Press.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says Mosley's imaginative powers are indisputable. But on the issue of the literary value of this particular novel, she's a doubting Thomas.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Children of Darkness and Light is a very strange novel -- one that I can't whole-heartedly recommend and yet one that I can't get out of my head either. It's a religious story, but it has nothing in common with the ubiquitous angels and Bible codes that constitute our sentimental pop theology these days.

Rather, this is a jarring tale in which God, if he or she does exist, is a baffling, remote creature whose IOU of a heavenly reward for the righteous seems like skimpy compensation for the hell they suffer on this earth.

In Mosley's ironic vision, God is not your personal saviour nor your friend. He's more like a divine telemarketer, presciently calling you up as you're about to sit down to dinner; making you offers you'd rather refuse; and always mispronouncing your name.

The anonymous narrator of Mosley's novel is a burnt-out journalist who's covered the war in Bosnia, as well as an incident some years earlier, in which some Yugoslavian children claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them on a hillside, issuing grim warnings about the future.

Because of his experience, the narrator's editor now decides to send him to an English village in Cumbria (ph), where another band of children have set up a commune, saying that they're acting on orders from the Virgin Mary too.

Then, they disavow the story. Suspicions are aroused that maybe the children, in claiming a miracle, actually have been trying to direct public attention to something else. Sexual abuse is a possibility; so is radiation poisoning.

The town the children live in is home to a nuclear waste reprocessing plant and there are rumors of leaks and contamination. Our hero travels to the town, where eerily everyone already knows his name, his business, and his marital troubles. That's another complicated story line here.

The narrator's wife is deeply unhappy and might be having an affair with his editor. The narrator himself has traveled to Cumbria with a sexy photographer who, he memorably tells us, "had long fair hair like the sticky fronds of plants that attract insects."

Religious faith and spousal faithfulness hang in the balance during the next three days as the narrator tries to get to the bottom of the children's story. But answers aren't forthcoming. The children may be mystics or victims of radiation zapping or murderers. A policeman, last seen in their company, is found dead.

When the narrator returns to London, he discovers his wife has a secret life. He subsequently finds a priest friend recreationally crucifying himself; stumbles upon a demonic scene of sadomasochism; and returns to Yugoslavia where, I'm pretty sure, he finally meets the Virgin Mary.

But Mosley lost me way before this last visitation. The plot of Children of Darkness and Light becomes so surrealistic that it's hard for a reader not to feel like a sheep caught in a thicket of images. Then again, what I liked about this novel was its images -- blurry snapshots of torment and ecstasy that Mosley develops in stale holy water.

I think I'd pronounce Children of Darkness and Light an interesting failure. Mosley has attempted to write a book about religious belief for grownups. There's alcohol and sex and real evil on its pages. But in trying to convey a sense of the ineffable to its readers, Mosley's novel itself just winds up being unintelligible.

Ultimately, my frustration with the novel won out over my good will. After all, even the almighty deigned to give the Israelites some sketchy direction during their 40-year ramble through the desert.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the novel "Children of Darkness and Light" by Nicolas Mosley.
Spec: Books; Authors; Nicolas Mosley
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Children of Darkness and Light
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.


This Romanian film about immigration and vanishing jobs hits close to home

R.M.N. is based on an actual 2020 event in Ditrău, Romania, where 1,800 villagers voted to expel three Sri Lankans who worked at their local bakery.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue